Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Work-life balance: yesterday and today

Hopefully at this time of year you are enjoying some much needed time off, followed by a stretch of workload that falls well below the typical summer stress line. The nature of this profession allows us to build a seasonal quality of life that often leads to a matching imbalance. Experienced superintendents and industry workers have developed a network of supporters and a system of routines to deal with the nature of the job. How did you accomplish those tasks? If you are like me when I was new to the industry, you worked hard for a very long time to adjust, and those closest to you, friends and family, needed to adjust with you to strike that balance. What about your new employees, who is assisting them to find a balance? What steps are being taken to at your facility to help employees be as successful outside of the workplace as they are within?

There are often similar steps taken to acclimate new employees into the team at your facility. Training and encouragement bolstered by proper compensation and benefits are basic tools to get the process moving. Recognition and empowerment by you and staff can increase the likelihood of a new employee succeeding as part of a team within the workplace. What steps are taken to help with the work-life balance beyond the out-of-bounds stakes?

I continue to hear of younger, talented professionals moving out of the industry to different careers. While lack of upward job mobility may well be a reason, don’t overlook the difficulty of work-life balance. Traits of the younger generations do little to mirror the needs and historical workload of our industry. How would you describe the hours you put in at the course when you began? Would all day-every day be accurate? Time and flexibility are a priority to the employees entering our industry. As much as we value our personal time and family needs, the younger generations entering the workforce most likely will have to have it. Flexibility may well be the key to making that happen. Working sun-up to sun-down is more indicative of a superintendent’s passion than a profession. Developing the golf industry as a passion may not happen in the first week, month or year. By then, the work-life balance may well be out of whack. Do you make it clear what the expectations are when they begin? Your recognition of their needs, and their understanding of your expectations should be on the table at the start. Can you be creative enough in scheduling for a promising young turf talent to thrive and attain that passion that drives us all?

Leadership and motivation are important tools of successful superintendents, and understanding generational traits of employees can assist with their use. Encouraging employees to be creative, empowering them to utilize their talents, and respecting them as people will go a long way towards their inclusion as a team member. Just knowing that what they value most could be the one thing that creates success for a new hire. While personal time might be the hardest item to provide, it may just end up being the most critical to your people.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are you ready to save a life?

I had just arrived at Long Meadow Golf Club for the GCSA of New England board meeting in advance of the nine-hole golf and membership meeting.  I was in a great mood as the facility holds a special place in my past.  I had caddied in the Lowell (MA) City Tournament for a family friend in my youth (about a thousand years ago), and grew up not too far away in Dracut, Massachusetts.  Oh, and it wasn’t far from home.

The buzzing noise going off in the lounge area when I walked in was, well, alarming!  As the door closes behind me, a staff member scurries past on his way onto the golf course carrying an automated external defibrillators (AED).  Another staff member can be heard telling someone on the phone “we have a man down.”  Minutes later, an ambulance can be seen following a utility vehicle onto the property.

I was to learn later that it was a well-liked, long time member who went into cardiac arrest on the first hole.  He was in “touch-and-go” condition when the ambulance finally left. 

My thoughts were with him the entire day, and still are as I write this article, but I am not looking to dwell on the seriousness of the member’s health issue.  What I do want to elaborate on are a few key items that may have saved his life:

The alarm:  There was no doubt about what was happening.  The alarm was indeed to alert staff that there was an emergency taking place. 

The plan: One of the Long Meadow board members joined our group after the meeting portion had concluded and we had a chance to chat.  It was then that I learned that Long Meadow does indeed have a plan for medical emergencies, and that the staff have had drills in the recent past. 

The AED: It was my understanding through comments of those with knowledge of the situation, that the AED was utilized.  What an asset.

I would really like this situation to raise awareness to you and your facilities.  What would happen if this were to occur at your course?  Is there a plan in place?  Are there personnel on staff that are trained in CPR and the operation of an AED?  Is there an AED on the property?  If the clubhouse is an answer to any of the above then please answer another question; who is most likely to encounter a member or patron under medical duress while playing golf, the clubhouse staff or grounds staff?  Are you trained to handle such a situation, is your assistant?  Is the cost of training a question or issue?  If so, what is the value your facility places on the safety of your membership or customers, because you or someone on your staff may very well be the one to respond to a golfer in need of medical assistance first!

In GCSA of New England's October issue of The Newsletter, I opined about the opportunity to utilize the staff to plan for success in the 2016 season.  Perhaps within that SCOR plan development under “opportunities” CPR/AED training and safety plan procedures should be added. 

I am truly hopeful that Long Meadow’s alarm, plan and AED provided one of their members a fighting chance today.  My thoughts and prayers are with him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

There's a lot to like at Trafalgar

I always enjoy visiting members at their facilities.  The passion they utilize on the job always shows through.  I always learn a lot and often get the opportunity to share that information with other members, in newsletters or on my blog. 

One such visit occurred recently and offered some insights into one member’s efforts to grow the game.  15-year GCSAA member, Mark Prieur, at Trafalgar Golf Club in Milton, Ontario, has undertaken several initiatives.  I learned quickly that my visit took place on Ladies Day.  Flag sticks were wrapped in pink VinylGuard with correlating cup liners.  This simple set-up is enjoyed by the members, and was inexpensive to accomplish.

Another area of the course has seen quite the buzz lately, too.  Prieur has had past experience with beekeeping and has resurrected the practice at Trafalgar.  While this is not unique to golf facilities, it was my first up-close experience with a hive.  The hive will help pollinate the clubs small vegetable garden and is located next to an adjoining farm.  Prieur explained that the hive should produce nearly 100 pounds of honey in the fall.

Growing the game long term begins with engaging children.  Prieur and the staff have developed a six-hole loop that is tailored perfectly for children.  The loop includes a “road hole” finish, at a grueling 29 yards long!  The loop utilizes unused space adjacent to the first tee. The pins are cut down to approximately five feet tall and sunk into cups into the middle of push-mowed greens.  Tees are marked using old rope stakes with hole yardage stenciled on the side. 

The space is packed on weekends, with member’s children and grandchildren utilizing the course.  The users need to be shorter than the flagsticks and often are slightly taller than the fescue areas that surround the fairways.  Maintenance takes very little time and labor, and the returns have been great!  Trafalgar now offers camps for children five years old and up, utilizing parents as caddies.  Offering the program to non-members has turned the small, once overlooked space into a revenue stream for the club.  Growing the game, and the bottom line! 

Feel free to reach out with questions. I can also connect you with Mark Prieur. 

If you have successful ideas or initiatives that others might enjoy, let me know and I will do my best to share.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Growing your staff this spring

With the two weeks of spring now out of the way, summer has practically set in.  This is the transition season that superintendents have waited for all winter. For those who came into the golf season in great shape, the course is set and standard practices are underway. For those less fortunate, the recovery process is in full swing, and often more aggressive cultivation and agronomic practices are dominating the job board.  No matter the spring outcome, this part of the season is dominated by stress.  How you handle the stress and pressures of your job will go a long way toward your success, and the success of your staff.

I have recently completed the three-day Applied Leadership Institute offered by the University of New Hampshire’s Professional Development and Training department.  I hope to include many of the topics that were covered in the program here on my blog from time to time.  I will not look to recreate leadership messages you may have heard at educational events, but more to give you items to consider at pertinent times of the season.

Spring time means staffing time and that can be stressful in itself.  Those returning from previous seasons are often relied on to pick up where they left off, with very little training.  Often, changes made in the off-season need to be discussed and put into action.  For some team members, change is looked at as positive and embraced, but not all staff will feel that way.  Will you get pushback?  Will they comply for a time, and then revert back to the old ways?  How will you handle this?  Communication can be used to engage those who are non-compliant, but it may come down to you as a leader making a decision to commit to the change, or to the non-compliant team member.  Will you be ready to choose?

How will your new employees fit into your team and facility plans?  You will tell them, and they will certainly learn what you expect of them.  But what will they expect of you?  Feel free to ask them, you might be surprised at what they tell you!  Proper training and support will be the key to their (and your) success.  Competitive wages are important, but studies often show that financial benefits are not always on the top of the list.  Think of what else might matter.  Job-life balance is often critical to success.  Does your new hire have a wife, family or even just a life outside of work?  These many areas of concern will dictate mood and effort.  Actively working with staff to balance these needs will help ensure team success.  These will be new eyes asking questions about some very standard practices.  Often we get set in our ways and new ideas can lead to improved processes.  Listen, encourage questions and reward creative thinking.  An eager employee is a terrible thing to waste!  Work to engage them with other staff members.  A new job can be intimidating enough when they do not know others around them well enough to socialize.  Your staff veterans will often help answer the questions new hires are too afraid to ask.  Empower them when they are ready to perform duties for you and the team.  Lastly, and above all, respect them through the learning process.  Not everything they are asked to do will be easy, and there will be mistakes along the way.  Show respect for them as a person, and they will respect you for it.

Please let me know if you found this helpful, or if there are other staff related items you thought should have been included.  I would really appreciate any feedback!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Politics are Local Like You!

My guess is this month’s issue of The Newsletter from the GCSA of New England could be called the “Advocacy Issue.”  With the chapter coming off of the first-ever Massachusetts Golf Day on Beacon Hill, and follow-up visits with legislators in conjunction with Ag Day, the GCSANE has engaged in some heavy hitting government relations work.  With a quick recap of high school civics, I will remind you that government has federal, state, and local levels.  GCSANE has put a big fat check mark next to the “state” level this past month.  GCSAA will assist all members in knocking the federal level off the check list on April 15 at National Golf Day with the We Are Golf coalition. 
What about the local level?  Remember the old adage that states “All politics are local”? This was no more evident than at Mass. Golf Day, when I was engaged in a conversation with Christopher Yancich, legislative aide for Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin.  As luck would have it, we had a superintendent from Franklin in the house -- Michael Luccini, CGCS, from Franklin Country Club.  We were able to put the two of them together and it was magic, or at least very productive.  It turns out Rep. Roy is an avid golfer, Yancich plays recreationally and wishes he was better. But more importantly Yancich and Luccini had mutual acquaintances with people who worked at FCC and also talked about the property.  Luccini was encouraged to reach out to Rep. Roy’s office for any issue that the golf industry might need assistance with.  This one interaction could develop a real, local connection that can assist in creating beneficial relationships for the golf industry should future needs arise. 
Consider the following information:

We Are Golf (National)
       465 Million Rounds Played
       $68.8 Billion Annual Impact
        Supporting 2 Million Jobs
ü  $55.6 Billion from U.S. Jobs
       143,000 Charitable Events Annually
ü  12 Million Participants
ü  $3.9 Billion Annual Impact
Massachusetts State Golf Day (State)
  $2.7 Billion – Total economic impact of golf in Mass., including direct, indirect and induced impacts.
• $1.7 Million – Total size of the Bay State golf economy.
·         Nearly 25,500 Massachusetts jobs.
ü  $796.8 Million – Total wage income
• $74.3 Million – Total amount of charitable giving attributed to golf in Massachusetts.

What your facility or company contributes matters to your local legislator too.  Can you fill in the blanks?

Your Facility Here (Local)

·         ______ Rounds Played

·         ______Total revenue generated

·         ______Number of Jobs

ü  ________Total wage income

·         ______Number of charitable events

ü  ________Total number of charitable participants

Mother Nature has dealt the Northeast region another long and arduous winter.  Rest assured, the public will again know the grass might not be greener on the other side of the fence, but it certainly is on the other side of Rae’s Creek.  As the Masters brings our industry into focus, be sure you are focused on the impact your golf facility, or even golf related company, provides to the local economy.  Make sure your members and customers know as well.  With national, state, and local efforts educating legislators we all stand a better chance of changing misperceptions of our industry into the reality that golf is good.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Remember the Buffalo!

As of the writing of this article, the snow blower has just been put away and the snow continues to fall. That does not exactly narrow down the timeframe much around here lately does it? This winter came in like a lamb in New England, and apparently Mother Nature is trying to make up for lost time. Late February may offer superintendents something to look forward to.  In just a short time, many in the Northeast will attend the Golf Industry Show and are very much looking forward to San Antonio. With temperatures in the 60-70 degree range, it will be a welcomed respite from the snow. But as we prepare to visit the Riverwalk, perhaps this is a good time to not just remember the Alamo, but the Buffalo!

Think that is a strange reference? Imagine this:  areas of Massachusetts have recorded more than 60 inches of snow in the last four weeks. The folks just south of Buffalo recorded that in just two days, with some spots in the region topping off at 7 feet in just four November days. I had the pleasure of visiting four Buffalo-area superintendents the same day winter storm Juno began to dump snow on the greater Boston area.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was scary,” was the opening salvo from Drew Thompson, superintendent of East Aurora CC, and 20-year-member of GCSAA.

Thompson was the winner in the snow total sweepstakes, having accumulated 6 feet at his home and 7 feet at the course. Joining Thompson were superintendent colleagues Gale Hultquist, CGCS, of Wanakah Country Club and a 37-year GCSAA member; Robert Kelly, CGCS, of Orchard Park CC, a 24-year GCSAA member; and  Eric Tuchols of Harvest Hill GC, an 11-year GCSAA member, all of whom put their course totals at or near 5 to 6 feet of snow.

The weather event was confined to a narrow path and began on Monday, Nov. 17. The final snowfall stopped during the afternoon of Nov. 21. A rare weather pattern of very cold air moving across the warm water of the Great Lakes created the flow of moisture. The fact that the wind direction hardly ever shifted kept the bulls-eye on the area just south of Buffalo.
No epic snowfall at the Tuchols residence in Amherst, NY.
(Photo by Eric Tuchols)

Getting around during the event was a challenge. Tuchols got 3 inches of snow at his home less than 20 miles from Orchard Park, the golf course location.

“I got a dusting and when I drove into it, it was holy cow,” he said.

He notes that he stayed off major highways and was stopped by police and the National Guard on his way to the course. Thompson’s description of his commute to the club on Wednesday was a little more colorful: “It was apocalyptic.  There were abandon cars all over the road, it was eerie.”

Kelly didn’t get to Orchard Park CC until Friday morning.

“I woke up on Tuesday and the snow was up to the door handles of my truck,” he said. “My GM called me because he wanted me to come in, but they hadn’t done my cul-de-sac.  I could have got to the end of my driveway but there were four or five feet of snow there too.”

Removal was equally challenging. The initial snow was extremely wet and heavy making plowing nearly impossible when more snow piled on top of it.

“We stayed on it from the time it started until the time it ended,” Thompson said while noting cars using the cleared out club entrance created issues. They got one truck stuck avoiding the vehicles, which they eventually removed, only to get it stuck again later in the storm.
It took a loader to reach the clubhouse at Wanakah.
CC in Hamburg, NY. (Photo by Gale Hultquist)

“It was a storm for big pay loaders not little trucks,” said Hultquist.

Hultquist was fortunate enough to gain the services of two such pieces of equipment. One contractor asked to park his low-boy trailer at the club, which was a short distance from the property he was hired to maintain. That individual made a pass through the club, and another contractor working for area members also made two passes through the club property giving the staff a critical start to the clearing process. In all, Thompson got both his plow trucks stuck, and a staff member at Wanakah got his stuck too.

Mother Nature delivered these superintendents some one-of-a-kind issues as well. Thompson and East Aurora operate a pump that is designed to regulate the water table in an adjacent wetlands area. In addition to keeping part of the property from remaining under water for the entire spring season, the pump keeps part of the Village of East Aurora from incurring water related damage. So what happens when seven feet of snow shows up? The monitoring software showed the pump station has faulted. The location is on the other side of the golf course and plowing in was not an option. Knowing that a large melt down was imminent, Thompson had to walk in with snow up to his mid chest.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “You are walking through it (snow) and your feet aren’t even touching the ground, it is like quicksand. I sat in the pump house for an hour and a half. I called the guys at the shop on the radio and told them they had to bring the loader in to rescue me. My wife reminds me all the time that I say that pump will be the death of me.” 

Kelly was in the process of installing a new pump station at Orchard Park CC, and the intake was not in place. He was faced with working to empty his irrigation pond again after the snow melt filled it to capacity. Kelly had to buy 400 feet of drainage tile to divert the water away from neighbors, rent a 6-inch pump and run it constantly for four days.

Tuchols was very nervous about not having his snow mold
protection down.  Easy to see why! (Photo by Eric Tuchols)
Tuchols faced challenges at Harvest Hill as well.

“I had no snow mold protection down when the storm hit,” he said.

With a course buried under nearly 6 feet of snow, that had to be a sick feeling. Fortunately the rapid melt down began on Sunday following the storms at which point Tuchols knew he would get his chance. Most of the course melted off naturally and after two days of shoveling the shaded greens off, the final application was made.

The towns south of Buffalo saw temperatures spike into the low 70s following the epic snowfall, and as quickly as it came, it was gone. They also missed the predicted rain that would have created massive complications due to flooding. These days, New England continues to get pelted with snow and constant low temperatures.  Stories of the challenges faced by others won’t do anything to lighten the mood. What it might do is shed some light on the perseverance necessary to not only survive, but to thrive as a golf course superintendent in the Northeast region. While I hope to see you in sunny San Antonio, I definitely don’t look forward to the shoveling I will probably have to do upon my return.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What is all the buzz about?

From Europe to Washington, D.C., to Washington State and nearly every place between, the plight of honey bees has been on the main stage. After attending the Pollinator Summit (presented by the New Jersey Green Industry Council) and Dr. Daniel Potter’s keynote address at the New York State Turfgrass Association Turf and Grounds Exposition, I have come to learn a lot about the critical role pollinators play in our world. Like turf, there are internal and external stresses that can upset the balance of the hive and industry. Oh and there are politics, lots of politics. There is also science, emotion and a host of other factors involved in the discussion. While the issues continue to swarm, let’s take a quick peek at golf’s footprint in this issue.

What role does turf play in the pollinator discussion? Neonicotinoid class insecticides (neonics), often used as a preventative for white grubs, have been shown to have adverse effect on pollinators. The degree to which they affect the beneficial insects often has more to do with which side of the political issue you wish to argue. While this situation is unfortunate it definitely can create disruption in turf right here in the Northeast region. Just this past year alone, legislative measures took place in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Maine to ban the use of neonics. Beekeepers in Vermont joined one superintendent at the committee hearing to assist in educating the legislators as to the minimal role neonics play in pollinator issues. Stephanie Darnell, technical development manager, Bayer CropScience, cited a survey of beekeepers that placed pesticides as the seventh most important stress factor to those in the bee industry, with varroa mite at the top of the list.

While none of the above mentioned legislation efforts were successful, it opens up the “what if” discussion. Without this useful tool, turf managers could be pushed to use more volatile chemicals, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, to control the same pests. These options are much less environmentally friendly, more costly and potentially more harmful to non-target pests.

What can turf managers do with regards to our friendly pollinators?

Develop stewardship practices: Learn about our role as land managers and the stresses regarding honey bees. Develop spray programs with the sensitivities of pollinators in mind.

Support research: Emotion and regulation can often outpace research needed to answer vital questions, and this issue is no exception. Remain vigilant regarding the latest research, and adjust your practices as needed.

Be part of the solution: It is so often overlooked that the golf industry undertakes environmental initiatives simply because it is the right thing to do. The changing landscape is often a negative impact on pollinators, leaving open green space that includes pollinator friendly vegetation as a critical part of the solution. Whether you choose to work with industry partners on specifically developed pollinator friendly programs, or become conscious of areas and plantings that you could incorporate on your property, avenues are available for our industry to be part of the solution.

I encourage GCSAA chapters to reach out to your state apiarists as a resource for information. Invite that individual to a meeting or education day to spread the word about pollinators in your area. The more you learn about the role your facilities play in the issue, the better chance you have at being part of the solution.